Channing Daughters Winery, Long Island (New York)

Landing in Manhattan

After a week in the buzzing New York City, I had to give myself a treat and leave for a quieter and more peaceful surrounding.

See you again

The initial plan was to go north to Spring Valley only a 45 mins drive from Manhattan. I wanted to visit the Pfeiffer Center straight away. The Pfeiffer Center is where Ehrenfried Pfeiffer (1899-1961), a close student of Rudolf Steiner(1861-1925) and pioneering biodynamic practitioner, came to live in the mid 1940s until his death in 1961. But you know how it goes … we make plans and at the last minute, plans change. I think plans, in fact, are made to be changed.

With all these meetings in NYC, I had to tidy up all my notes, pictures and update my blog. It is a real job in itself to file up all the documents and addresses one gathers when traveling.

Some fresh air in a park in NYC

It was quite a surprise to discover that along the way here in North America. When I was traveling and working in Asia from 2006 to 2009, I made sure not to bring any electronics with me, to be as light as possible. As soon as my backpack was too heavy, I used to send a parcel to my home in France. It was quite something to unpack all of that when I came back home three years later. Thirty parcels from all Asia carrying with them the flavour of the country the parcel was sent from.

Most of the wineries I wanted to visit in North America are situated on the West Coast, being mostly in California, Oregon and Washington states.

Bridgehampton on Long Island

The only one I knew of before coming here were the Ontario vineyards in eastern Canada. Being in the US now, information about wineries are easier to get and I could collect a few names in the Long Island area (east of New York City) and in the Finger Lakes (north west of New York).

I’m not anymore alone on the road as from now, as Claire from Scotland has joined me in NYC and will travel with me for the next four weeks until we reach California.

Enjoying a walk on 'Jones beach' with Claire

Usually, I have to admit I’m more of an independent traveler, but in fact when we think about it, traveling with a partner is going to be more exciting especially when we’ll have to drive through the thousands of kilometers of the middle west. So let’s try that.

Long Island is a bit like La Baule in France or Brighton in England to a certain extent obviously. Wealthy New Yorkers go there during summer time to take a break from the city.

Passing a bridge at sunset

The Hamptons are quite famous on Long Island and if you want to look for the wineries, you have to go to the far end of the island on the South Fork or on the North Fork. Wineries are more spread out on the North Fork because of a warmer microclimate over there. Shinn Vineyards, for example, I’m talking about in the French version of the blog, is on the North Fork. Very few vineyards are on the South Fork as it is much cooler there.

Channing Daughters Winery

As an island, you can imagine the difficult conditions to grow grapes here as grapes are very mildew sensitive, a cryptogamic illness on the leaves which blocks the photosynthesis process and the normal growing of the plant. Every vinegrower will tell you that downy and powdery mildew are the nightmares of vineyards. In the conventional vineyards, they spray synthetic chemicals 8 to 14 times  to get rid of the pressure from this fungi. No need to say that all of these chemicals are to be found in the glass of the consumer thereafter.

Long Island does have approximately 35 wineries on its island among the nearly 300 that you find in the whole state of New York. Channing Daughters Winery was recommended by Pascaline Lepeltier from Rouge Tomate, whom I met the previous week in NYC. The tour of the vineyard was short and intense with the energetic and active character named James Christopher Tracy who is the winemaker and also partner of the winery. A very knowledgeable man, Christopher is preparing the very sought-after Master of Wine Diploma. To give you an idea of the level, there are 279  Masters of Wine (MW) in the whole world today.

James Christopher Tracy

One relevant and important thing that he mentioned during our visit is the actual origin of copper and sulfur which is wildly used in organic and biodynamic vineyards. At Channing Daughters, they practice sustainable farming and try to be as environmentally friendly as posssible. It is true that to fight against the downy midlew for example, large quantities of copper are spread on the vineyard. Where does this copper come from …?

Surrounded by grapes

The same with the Bordeaux mix, which is made with a copper sulphate base. Same question once again: where is the copper sulphate coming from? Except some volcano in the world where you are able to find natural sulfur in the form you need for your vineyards, usually it has to be mined with heavy machinery and then processed (petrol consumption) to result in the form suitable for your personal use. Large quantities of sulfur and copper are sometimes found in the organic and biodynamic vineyards. These two names (organic and biodynamic) don’t mean the vineyards are clean from any synthetic chemical. The proof is here with the relevant argument made by Christopher.

Tasting some of the 29 wines

We finish the visit with a tasting of some of the wines made by him. The choice is huge as they make no less than 29 different wines in a single vintage. A true game of blending indeed. Grape varieties are mostly originated from central Europe and northern Italy. You are able to find here some Blaufrankish, Tocai Friulano, Lagrein, Teroldego Rotaliano, Dornfelder, Sylvaner, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, etc …

Tasting room

The oldest grapes on the estate were planted in 1982. They have 28 acres here in the South Fork and bought 30 acres of land on the North Fork too. This is in order to create more diversity in their wines, which I find already very, very diverse. It is not everywhere on Long Island that you are able to taste a Ripasso or a Solera wine for example. My preference will go to the Sauvigon Blanc Mudd vineyard 2008 made out of 35 year old vines: great citrusy flavours, complexity, refreshing on the palate and fine delicate acidity which is very pleasant.

The ferry between the South and North Fork

Published in: on June 19, 2010 at 4:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

New-York wine scene

Nothing to declare...? All clear to cross the border!

When we think about New York, the first thing which comes to my head is probably the Statue of Liberty. At least it was the case not so long ago. Preparing this trip in the Big Apple a few months ago, I wanted to go and meet the wine scene over there. Olivier Cousin, a natural vigneron from the Loire Valley, gave me some addresses worth a visit in NYC and thanks to him I could get in touch with the jewel of the NYC  wine scene.

I arrived in NYC two weeks ago, and because of the intensity of my stay there, updating my blog took a bit longer than expected. Only a week in this city, that’s why I wanted to make the most of it obviously … My priority: meeting as many people as possible involved in the natural, organic or biodynamic wine trade. It could be retailers, importers, distributors, sommeliers, wine bars, wine stores, writers  and journalists. After a long drive from Toronto to NYC and a stop at Woodbridge Farm,a biodynamic farm in Connecticut, I arrived in NYC ready to collect as much information as possible regarding the wine scene over there. With two goals mainly: the first being collecting interviews for this blog and for the project with French magazine LeRouge&LeBlanc, and the second was to find partners to work with in America to import exclusive small estate fine wines from France.

At 'Woodbridge' biodynamic farm in Connecticut

All the week, I kept myself busy to investigate and to meet the characters behind the different names who make NYC so famous for authentic wines. It started with importers and 10 years old company Jenny & François Selections. The meeting with Jenny Lefcourt, an elegant and courteous lady, was the beginning of what was going to be a busy week.

Jenny Lefcourt from 'Jenny & François Selections'

Other importers in this niche market are Louis/Dressner Selections, Savio Soares Selections, Fruit of the Vine Inc, and Jon-David Headrick Selections. From all of them, I could only meet Kevin McKenna from Louis/Dressner Selections with their wines mainly from France, and then Italy, some from Spain and Croatia too.

Kevin McKenna from 'Louis/Dressner Selections'

From one appointment to an another, I went to meet representatives of the wine stores Maslow 6, Chambers Street, West Side Wine, Appellation Wines, Discovery Wines, Astor Wines, UVA, and 67 Wine. All of them offer a wide range of excellent quality wines from quality winemakers from all over the world but more particularly from France and Italy. At every meeting, the quality of the exchange was different. But after all, the common thread was the passion and the knowledge that those people have about wine.

Mollie Battenhouse, Jane, and Keri Kunzle from 'Maslow 6'

David Lillie from 'Chambers Street'

David Phillips from 'Astor Wines'

Andy Besch from 'West Side Wine'

Scott Pactors from 'Appellation Wines'

Tim Mortimer from 'Discovery Wines'

Every time it was inspiring to meet them. They defend the authenticity and the taste for good wine and food and quality products. Each one of them has its own particularity and special something which makes them so unique.

From the stores, I then toured the wine bars The Ten Bells with Fifi and Jorge, The Counting Room with Doria, Terroir, Maslow & Sons and Diner in Brooklyn, and Clo Wine bar with Steven MacDonald, which is original for its virtual wine list.

Steven McDonald from 'Clo Wine Bar' and the virtual list showing up on the table

Some restaurants worth the visit if you go to NYC are Trestle on Tenth with chef Ralf Kuetel, Rouge Tomate with  sommelier Pascaline Lepeltier DBGB with chef Daniel Boulud and sommelier Kerrie Obrien, and the restaurant Hearth.

Pascaline Lepeltier from 'Rouge Tomate' and I have been to the same sommelier school in Angers

But what would probably be the most remarkable encounter was my meeting with Alice Feiring, a free-lance writer for The New York Times who also runs a famous blog In Vino Veritas. Her book « The battle for Wine and Love: or How I Saved the World from Parkerization » had a big echo in the wine world. It happened that I got her contact thanks to Jenny. And we could arrange a time for me to call her on the phone. When she asked me what I was looking for in the vineyards in North America, my answer was authenticity, character, and sapidity. She told me with humour that to find a complete  farm here in the US with vineyards also with animals, aromatic herbs, vegetables, cereals, orchards,etc…  one would have to wait for 150 years at least before finding such a thing. Funnily enough, we talked on the phone on a Wednesday morning, and NYC being a very small city indeed(?), it happened that we met in person in a restaurant I was visiting later on during the week. Without any appointment our meeting took place like that on a restaurant floor. So small is the world sometimes! We could exchange a few words.

World reknown newspaper, 'The New-York Times' remains the daily most read in the US

My week ended as it had started, under the heat of a warm, sleepless, vibrant and dynamic city.

"...Slow down Bryant...."???, but who is Bryant?

Frogpondfarm, Niagara peninsula (Ontario)

Water, Earth, Wind as the faces of the triangle

I will conclude this Niagara peninsula excursion with  the wine and the domain which attracted me the most. This meeting with Jens Gemmrich on this sunny afternoon, in a place very close to Niagara falls, certainly worthed the visit. It is the first time I can meet up with the owner of the farm who is also the winemaker and the vinegrower. It is not so common,  as usually here in Canada from what I could see so far, winemaking is more of a hobby so to say,  for rich bankers from Toronto, investors from abroad or businessmen wanting to make wine. Never I’ve been received by the owner except here at frogpondfarm.

Jens Gemmrich from frogpondfarm

I had to call up several times ahead before setting up an appointment with Jens. The email address seems not to work properly and I couldn’t get trough when I wrote them at the first time. Once again , thanks to the Biovino wine tasting at my arrival in Canada more than a month ago, I could find this farm producing the best value wine among all of what I’ve visited.

It is a small wine shop in which we enter at first,  where  relaxing music is played  and friendly atmosphere is perceptible. The farm is only 10 acres and in the middle of it we can see the pond where the name of the farm is coming from.

frogpond farm without a pond and frogs would have been out of place, isn't it ?

At frogpondfarm they farm organically since 1996 and started to make wine in 2001. We can find here also some fruit trees, sheep, guinea fowls, and chickens . This diversity on such a little piece of land brings a lovely atmosphere of cosiness and liveliness. In 2004, they then bought 20 acres of land on an other farm to produce more grapes. It is only in 2007 that they got the organic certification Pro-cert Canada.

Sheep mowing under the fruit trees

Since the beginning of the visit, I’ve been touched by the authenticity of the farm, by Jens the owner, and by the wines. All of them express great character, depth and beauty. Not having a lot of time for our meeting, being  at the pick of the growing  season, Jens will show me around and we’ll have a quick walk around the pond, in the winery, and in the tasting room where they receive their customers.

Human size winery for a humanistic approach to wine

At frogpond farm, they are not using oak barrels at all, and this is the first time I have the privilege to taste some wines without any oak barrel ageing at all. For Jens, there is no coherence when  using oak barrels only for 5 years,  where  it took a single oak tree more than a hundred years to grow and to reach adulthood. This is not a sustainable process for him . « At this pace we’ll soon no longer have oak forest anymore ». The only oak he uses is   vat oaks – much bigger barrel of 2500 liters each – from Germany. If handled properly, they will last more than a hundred years old each. Year after year he uses them and has very good result with them.

Vat oaks in an oval shape

With the tasting,  we find an homogeneity from the beginning to the end. The same rigorousness is done in the winemaking. No fining, indigenous yeast most of the years, respect of the fruit and of the terroir. I find great depth and originality in these wines and it is a real pleasure to see them sold between 12 to 15 $ (9 to 11€) out of  the farm. When tasting these wines we find sapidity, minerality, complexity and character. A very small quantity of sulfur is added to the wine, only between 5 to 20g per liter.

Regularity in the wines

For the little story, one the wine (Chardonnay 2007) has been refused for the agreement by the VQA (Vintner Quality Alliance), the body which gives the appellation to the wines in Canada.

The bad boy !

It is a body of so called expert who are used to taste all the time the same wines. When one wine is a bit different, they will refuse the agreement. It makes me thinks of the huge fight nowdays in France regarding these winemakers who don’t look anymore at the appellation system and sell their wine under the generic name Vin De Table (Table Wine). Nevertheless, they can manage to sell their wine to top restaurants in the world wherever it is in New-York, Tokyo, Paris or London. These wines are often the perfect wines for food pairing and sommeliers in restaurants will serve them as a discovery for the customer under blindtasting conditions most of the times. There is some freshness to be brought to the french appellation system and the late René Renou, the ex-président of INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origines) was one of the few in the heavy french bureaucracy to lead this movement for a more meaningful appellation system.

In Canada, I’m discovering that the farmer is confronted to the same problem. When Jens asked me what did I think about this wine before

Chambourcin, a winter hardy grape variety

telling me anything about it and its refusal before the VQA agreement, I simply answered that this was the wine I’ve had most enjoyed so far. Strange enough, it has been tasted as oxydised by the agreement. In fact, from my pointof view, I don’t even taste the slightest oxydisation in the wine. I find delicate acidity, lenght, complexity, pleasant texture, and a bit of CO2 which brings freshness and drinkability. For 13 $ (10€), you end up with a great wine suitable for gastronomy. Let it breathe for 4 hours before enjoying it not too cold. You’ll notice how Niagara peninsula can produce author wines made from real artists. This wine is a proof to show that Canada has done a step further in the terroir expression. I would recommend to stop by this farm whenever you come to Niagara Peninsula area. Furthermore you’ll discover some grapes such as chambourcin and will be able to taste the purest grape juice I’ve tried made also on the farm. Taste the authenticity, visit frogpondfarm !

Grape juice if not in a mood to drink wine
Published in: on June 10, 2010 at 8:21 pm  Comments (2)  
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Tawse Winery, Niagara peninsula (Ontario)

All I knew about the Canadian wines before coming to Ontario was the inevitably Ice wine made from this country. Weather conditons with harsh winters are producing all the factors needed in order to produce this kind of wines. You need the grapes to be harvested  at night at -8°C .  So,  no need to say that it is requiring  a special logistic before hand to satisfy this niche market .

Niagara peninsula vineyards

At the London wine fair some years back, I had the chance to discover the wine production from Canada. At that time, I remember, I wasn’t so impressed by the quality I could taste there.   Things seemed to have changed since then in a better way.

I should have met with Sara Jensen for the visist of the winery, but unfortunately with a cough, she was unable to comment the tour. We will nevertheless meet and briefly talk about the Biovino tasting in Toronto where we met for the first time a month and a half ago.  Instead, Kevin Knapp, a student from the area, will kindly guide the visit and show me around.

Starting with Kevin before it gets too hot, going to the chicken coop, which we see in the back

On a very warm sunny day

When we pass the gate at the entrance of Tawse Winery, we can’t miss the pond and its bullfrogs singing and hiding amidst the  water vegetation . These frogs are now in Europe.  In France, I know that they are causing trouble because of their size and their overpopulation. They are originally from the american continent and they came unnaturally  in Europe in a new and different ecosystem not so long ago. They are ten times as big as the regular green frogs you find commonly in France, and not having any predators there, they are eating all the food of the smaller frogs living also in such wet areas, when not eating them directly.

Kevin took me to the vineyard to start with  to avoid the scorching heat of the day. The oldest vines  of the estate are 28 years old from the Chardonnay grape variety, but the first vintage underTawse‘s name came in 2001.

A swim in the pond to cool down ?

In the middle of the vineyard, you can find a chicken coop from where some eggs are sold also from the wine shop. I see it as only a family back yard production and the chickens can’t satisfy the manure production required for the estate. Nevertheless, they bring an another dimension to the vineyards with the animal aspect.Sheep, which we won’t approach today are also to be seen on the vineyard.

The winery has been designed in a way to avoid pumps from the harvest til the bottling stage. It has 6 floors  and uses gravity at every stage of the wine making process.

From top to bottom, a natural wine fall

It is cooled down by a water circulation pipe going from the bottom of the 25 feet deep pond – and collecting the freshness from there – to the winery for cooling down the cellar. In this way, they are saving 85% electricity.  The grey water from the winery goes to a biofilter where specials reeds are growing and naturally filter the water, which is then  released to the pond.

The barrel cellar using geothermal refrigeration

Better than the human hand ?

When entering the fifth floor from where the grapes are coming from during the harvest, we come  face to face with the dynitizer, a copper made mixer made for stirring  biodynamic preparations automatically.  This is where we find a vertical and a membrane press too.

Barrels to be cleaned on the mezzanine

At the top floor, we find the oak vats, then  we find the thermoregulated stainless steel tanks, the middle floor is the mezzanine with the barrel cellar, and then the final  fermentation stage for the reds and the whites are at the bottom.

A stainless steel barrel used to top up wooden barrels in the cellar

Among the ten wines we’ll taste, I’ve  prefered the reds VQA Lincoln Lakeshore, Cabernet Franc 2007 with a dark red colour, animal, full in the palate, harmonious,  with character,  for 47,95$  and the VQA Twenty miles bench Pinot Noir 2007 for its juicy texture, fine acidity, delicate balance and clean expression of the grape variety for 31,95$ CA.

Wind from the lake and cool climate are suitable for this grape variety

Pleasant wines worth discovering

Hidden secret kept inside the barrel cellar

Published in: on June 4, 2010 at 11:04 pm  Comments (1)  
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Biodynamic preparations’ day at Whole Circle Farm (3)

In this post we are going to finish presenting the preparations we are using  in biodynamic agriculture, and therefore complete a series of three post about this topic.

The barn in the back...

This day out with Johan, the manager,  proved to bring light on the subject.  From the preparation 500, we went to the preparation 507.  We are now going to deal with the 508 : the horse tail or equisetum.


It is the horsetail or equisitum preparation. This preparation is not used inside the compost. It is a tea preparation which serves as a preventive to lessen the effects when conditions conducive to fungus problems exist. Horsetail tea is extracted from the common horsetail, a plant especially rich in silica. When there is a year with a lot of rain use the horsetail tea to damp down the etheric forces into the plant. Use 1,5 ounce for 2 gallons of water per acre, (100g for 20l per hectare) and stir for 20 minutes.

Barrel compost or Cow pat pit or Maria Thun’s preparation :

The use of barrel compost compensates to some degree for lack of sufficient compost onto the farm.

Cow manure, egg shell and basalt

This preparation has been developped thanks to Maria Thun, a German lady who has been working with biodynamics her whole life. The ideal farm is to have the ideal amount of animals on the farm. Though usually you never have enough compost to put on your land every year, that’s why you put compost on the same field every three years or so. With this preparation, it enables you to spray compost on your field every year. Here the preparations are applied homeopathically. You must use fresh well formed manure from the farm.

And you mix it and you mix it...

This is the preparation we made in the afternoon. We took 5 pails of 5 gallons (20l) each filled with cow manure, 300g of egg shells and 1kg of basalt (volcanic ash). The eggs have to be raw and then dried up. Basalt has clay forming ability, ideal to get a vibrant living soil. We mix everything up for an hour and we put it in a wooden box half buried (ideally a barrel) into the ground with an open bottom. Then Johan put half of the compost into the ground, made 5 holes in a dice shape, added a tea spoon of the 502, 503, 504, 505 and 506 preparations in each holes and sprinkled some dynamised valerian on top of the layer. After that he started an other layer and did the same again. You have to wait for 4 weeks, then you come back, take the compost out, mix it and put again the preparations into the compost.

Adding the 5 preparations to the manure

Then after 4 more weeks the barrel compost is ready to use. The preparations help the breakdown of nutrients and make them avalaible to the plants.

An other way of spraying the preparations on a bigger surface with a container at the front and at the back of a tractor

We finished the day by applying the barrel compost preparation onto the market garden. We put a ¼ of a pail (1gallon or 4l) into 35 gallons (140l) of water, we stirred the preparation for 20 minutes in a stainless steel container with a willow tree stick, and thirty people went for a walk into the field to heal the land with their pail full of dynamised preparation in one hand and the whisk in the other.

Storing the preparations in a clay or glass container, in a box full of peat

And to finish with…

Should I stay or should I go ?

All clear.............. Let's go !

Published in: on May 28, 2010 at 6:11 am  Leave a Comment  
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Biodynamic preparations’ day at Whole Circle Farm (2)

We’ve start to talk about the first biodynamic preparations last week. Now we’ll be following up with what is called the compost preparations. The next 6 preparations are called compost preparations because they are used in the compost pile. They are used as a set to treat a 10 tons compost pile. They are medicinal herbs: yarrow, chamomille, stinging nettle, oak bark, dandelion and valeriane. They guide the compost pile to breakdown in a certain way. When we apply them to the land, it heals the land and gives it directions.

Cory making a hole to stuff one of the compost preparations into the compost pile at Saugeen River CSA


It is the yarrow preparation. Yarrow is a plant that is good to have on the hedge of your fields. It’s like friends, said Johan, it is not what they do,  it  is what they are,  which is important. It permits the plants to attract trace elements in extremely dilute quantities for their best nutritious. You use one teaspoon for 10 tons of compost, inside a small compost paddy which you insert to the compost pile half way with a stick .

The yarrow preparation is kept in a net to keep away the too curious animals over the winter

When we use the compost preparations it is like alchemy, it turns for exemple potassium into nitrogen or whatever is needed for growing. Yarrow is a plant used for liver and kindneys. Flowers are picked in June- July when they are tender flowers, then dried and hanged up the whole summer in a stag bladder. The male deer is a very alert animal in always extreme communication with its environment.

As precious as a golden nugget


It is the chamomille preparation. It stabilizes the nitrogen (N) within the compost and increases soil life so as to stimulate plant growth. Chamomille is a calming herb which helps digestion. That’s why we will stuff it in an animal part related with digestion. It will be the small intestine of a cow. We pick the small flowers, and make them dry before stuffing them up like sausages. During the burying process over the winter, the intestine is decomposing, and only the flowers remain. We use only one tea spoon for a 10 tons compost pile.

The chamomille preparation, also called 503


It is the stinging nettle preparation. It works on the nitrogen content of the compost. It stimulates soil health, providing plants with the individual nutrition components needed. We will just talk about it with Johan today. The stinging nettle is almost like an animal as when you touch it, it stings you. When it starts flowering, you cut it without the root, dry it and bury it for a whole year. Then you break it off before using it into your compost. We use a tea spoon for treating 10 tons of compost.


It is the oak bark preparation. The oak bark is made of 75% calcium, that’s why we should use an animal part related also with calcium.

The oak bark is right in the round cavity

We take shavings from an oak bark, and put it together in a container made of calcium. In this preparation we use a cow skull (we could use also a pig skull). The oak bark has the property of strenghtening blood vessels. It is stuffed in the cavity of the skull where the brain is. We can use only the skull once as we have to break it to remove the oak bark after the winter.

Ready to break off the skull to get the oak bark out

It is buried in a damp place. This preparation provides healing forces (or qualities to combat harmful diseases). Here again it is a tea spoon for 10 tons of compost.

The oak bark after a whole winter in a damp place


This is the dandelion preparation. Steiner used to call the dandilion plant « the messenger from heaven ». We pick the dandelion flower when the middle is tight.

A dandelion flower with a tight center

This preparation works on the silica of the plant. It stimulates the relation between silica and potassium so that silica can attract cosmic forces to the soil.

Digging up the mesentery

It sensitises the plant from its surrounding. It is put in the mesentery of a cow, the mesentery being a membrane underneath the skin which holds the intestine in. It is buried all over the winter. We are still using one tea spoon for 10 tons of compost.

Removing the dandelion from the mesentery


It is also called the valerian preparation. Joahn grounds up fresh valerian flowers, strain them out in a cheese clothe to get the juice out and make it fermented a bit. He then adds few drops in a gallon of water, and stir it for 20 min. Then, the preparation is sprayed over the compost pile. It stimulates the compost so that phosphorous components will be properly used by the soil.

Connor spraying some valerian on the compost pile at Saugeen River CSa

Published in: on May 25, 2010 at 12:55 am  Leave a Comment  
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Biodynamic preparations’ day at Whole Circle Farm (1)

The biodynamic preparation’s day at Whole Circle Farm, a farm which is also a member of the C.R.A.F.T. Ontario program (Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training in Ontario), was held last Saturday. Nearly all the preparations used in biodynamic farming were dug up during that day and it took us an hour and a half to drive down to this farm with Connor, from Saugeen River CSA. When we arrived there, they had already started the day. A gathering of thirty people was listening carefully what Johan, the farm manager, was talking about. It was just the beginning of the introduction of the day.

Welcome to Whole Circle Farm

The aim of biodynamics is to make the plants sensitive to their environnements. All along the day Johan kept saying that energies and life forces (not substances) are what we are working with when applying biodynamic principles on a farm.

Ready to dig !

After this little introduction, we went in the garden behind the building to dig up the first preparation: the horn manure called also preparation 500. When we burry the preparations, it is important to spot them with a post. After 6 months into the soil, we are not able to see where they are

Johan in action

anymore if not. To dig a hole 2 feet (60cms)deep can sometimes be a hassle if we miss the right position only from few inches. Johan was commenting the day. Each preparation has a different number (from 500 to 508). They are originated from Rudolf Steiner, an austrian clairvoyant who gave a series of 8 lectures to agriculturists in 1924 in Koberwitz – which is now western Poland. These lectures are gathered in the book Agriculture and give the foundation of biodynamics (from the greek bio – life and dynamics– forces).


Hundreds of cow horns, originally from Texas, were buried. The horns were stuffed with cow manure last fall and buried over the winter.

Taking the transformed manure out of the horns

Ideally, horns should be from the farm itself in order to respect as much as possible the close living organism concept that Steiner talks about in his lectures. The notion of farm individuality is something they are still working towards here at the farm. If you want to respect all what Steiner said, you’ll never get started said Johan. Horns can be used three to five times one year after an other, depending of their state. You have to take horns from cows which have been fed with hay or grass, no grains, silage or corns, because their digestive system (with four stomachs) responds to it better. The 500 enlivens the bioactivity into the soil.

Digging up the horns

To apply it, you empty the horn (1oz per acre or 100g per hectare) in a bucket filled with water (3gallons per acre or 30 l per hectare). Then you stir it for one hour. Start on the outside, and as you keep moving, you go towards the middle until you get a nice vortex.

The vortex of life

Once you have a vortex, you reverse the movement and create a chaos. Then you start in this new direction and you carry on this procedure the whole hour. You can apply the preparation with a brush or a whisk all over the farm. Or if you want to spray them you have to strain it before.

One way to apply the 500: using a whisk
Idealy a copper container would be the most appropriate. The 500 is sprayed before we plant anything. It is applied after sunset when the earth is inhaling. We are feeding the soil. When the lunar forces are stronger in wet years or weaker in dry years, the 500 helps restore the balance.


It is the silica preparation. Saturday, we will just talk about it with Johan but normally it is a preparation that you make in spring. You bury it over the summer and dig it up at fall. It is grounded quartz, made into a paste, and stuffed in a cow horn. It helps the plant takes the light and it is used mainly in cloudy and wet areas. It is used homeopathically using only one teaspoon per acre (not even 1g per hectare) put in 3 gallons (10 liters) of water, and stirred also for an hour. The radiation of the silica has been transformed into the water. Regarding the rythm of the earth – inhaling during evenings and exhaling during mornings – it is a preparation which should be made before sunrise. So, ideally, start stirring half an hour before sunrise and apply it half an hour after sunrise over your fields. Sometimes the silica can have a burning effect, this is how strong this preparation can be. In any case, don’t apply it after 10.30am.

Published in: on May 18, 2010 at 7:39 pm  Comments (2)  
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Back to the future

Last Sunday, we were having dinner with Cory’s family, Tania, Georgia, Stefano, Connor and Marike. During the meal we’ve started talking about horses and the possibility for Cory to start working with a draft horses team on his farm in the near future. Already when I contacted Cory for the first time last winter, he told me his intention to move shortly towards this other way of working the land with. A totally different approach to farming indeed.

With a strong interest for horses, I was more curious about the different communities around here who are working with horses since a long time. The most known are probably the Amishs or the Menenites. They are the most knowledgeable people to meet if someone wants to know more about draft  horses, that’s for sure.

This evening , we went to see Noah’s farm only a few kilometers away from Saugeen river CSA. He is part of an Amish community. As we entered the farm, a little boy of 8 years of age welcomed us with his piercing eyes and bright smile. « Noah is in the house » said he. Arriving in the middle of the farm, we were quickly surrounded by a bunch of kids of different ages wearing blue or green working clothes. The boys had straw hats on their heads. So much life was emanating from them.

As soon as the presentation was done, we went into the barn to look at the pair of Belgian horses who was in there. We hitched them behind the trailer, went for a short ride in the field and came back to the farm. Noah is working on a 200 acres farm, of which only 100 acres are under cultivation. Everything is done with the horses: the ploughing (30 acres every fall) , cutting the hay or carrying wood. No shoes are needed if the horses are not going on asphalt roads. With 5 horses, he is able to work his land entirely. He even uses them all five at the same time to pull a disk, an implement used to loosen the soil after ploughing or a cereal crop.

One of the oldest and most powerful draft horses: the Belgian horses

By far, my curiosity towards draft horses has been fulfilled tonight. Though, I already hear people saying that to work with horses is going backwards. Well, according to Rob Hopkins, the founder of the transition town movement which started in Ireland few years ago, the peak oil point being around 2015, an alternative way to use oil would be the horse power.

In France, more and more vineyards are moving towards draft horses: less compaction of the soils than a tractor, brings the animal aspect to the field, shallower ploughing, and of course free fresh manure. World reknown domains such as La Romanée Conti in Burgundy are working with horses even if they don’t advertise about it. In Bordeaux, Château Pontet-Canet is cultvating its 200 acres of vines only with them also.

Instead of going backwards, working with horses might be being 20 years ahead of time. The consumer wanting more and more quality in his food will certainly help the spreading of this movement.

Published in: on May 10, 2010 at 11:16 pm  Comments (1)  

Saugeen River CSA biodynamic farm Ontario

I found a video on You Tube,  shot in 2008 about Saugeen River CSA, the farm I’m working on right now.

Check it out:

Published in: on May 4, 2010 at 7:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

Beyond wine

After this busy Green living show in Toronto las week-end, the least I could do was to come to the country side for a bit and enjoy the fresh air that it provides. Everytime I’m coming to a city it’s like tuning up a musical instrument with the particular wave lenght this city possesses. It takes a lot of energy out of one’s self to live in a vibrant and never sleeping place like Toronto. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this cosmopolitan surrounding which reminds me in a way London in the UK. We can find every corner of the world represented in here from China town to little Italy or from little India to the Jamaican area.

This international atmosphere, I found it again with the Biovino winetasting. It has been of a great help to get in touch with the North American wine trade at this show and hear what is going on in the organic and biodynamic movements around the world. But this is only one side of what is happening right now in the business, the other side – the core of it – is happening in the field obviously . To understand a wine, we have to understand the place where it is coming from and the people who made it. My focus being biodynamics, that means I want to get a bigger picture of farms and to see them as true living organisms – according to Rudolf Steiner words, the founder of Biodynamic in 1924. That’s why Saugeen River CSA, the biodynamic mixed farm where I’ll be staying now, just 2 hours away from Toronto, is the perfect place to go beyond wine and understand a complete farm system with animals, vegetables, cereals, fruits trees and other crops. Because a good wine cannot be made without healthy vine plants grown on living soil, I’ll observe a bit closer here how minerals, vegetals, animals, and humans interact with one an other, a vine plant being only a plant amongst other plants with the only particularity to produce a fruit – when pressed and the juice fermented – able to fill your heart with joy, open up you mind and let you be closer to the heavens.

Published in: on April 30, 2010 at 12:39 am  Leave a Comment